Egypt's presidency is set to refer the final draft of a proposed NGO law to the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers) for deliberation within a couple of days, having changed a handful of controversial articles included in previous drafts of the bill.
Several members of the president's advisory team held a Monday press conference to unveil details of the final draft, which they view as better than previous versions due to the latest modifications.
Among the amendments to the law, the final draft of which will be publicised after being referred to the Shura Council, is one stating that non-governmental organisations can be legally accredited via notification.
According to a previous draft released in May, civil society groups would not be allowed to operate until they obtained a 'certificate of registration' from Egypt's social solidarity ministry. This stipulation sparked fears of possible limitations on the establishment of NGOs in Egypt.
Presidential advisors stressed that the final draft of the law was in line with both Egyptian law and Egypt's new constitution, according to which NGOs can only be legally established by 'notifying' authorities.
"If an NGO submits its documentation to the relevant administrative body [steering committee] and the latter does not voice objections within a set period of time, then the organisation in question becomes legal," explained Nermin Hassan, human rights coordinator for the presidency.
Khaled Al-Qazzaz, secretary of President Mohamed Morsi on foreign affairs, said that, pursuant to the new law, the maximum allowable period in which the steering committee can refuse an NGO request was one month. This period can vary, however, based on the nature of the organisation seeking accreditation.
Like previous drafts of the law, the social solidarity ministry will be in charge of managing Egyptian civil society. Under the law, the ministry would draw up a steering committee that would represent the main regulator of Egypt-based NGOs.
The committee will include four members of Egypt's General Federation of NGOs, which consists of 30 members, ten of whom – including the committee head – are appointed by the president. Remaining members would be appointed based on regulations drafted by the social solidarity ministry.
While insisting the new law did not stipulate that the committee must include security elements (as in previous drafts), Al-Qazzaz explained that the social solidarity minister would enjoy the right to include security elements if he deemed it necessary.
"After all, state institutions are linked to one another," he said. "In all cases, the steering committee and executive authorities cannot take action against NGOs without judicial support."
"For example, if the steering committee objects to a certain source of funding, this doesn't mean that the funding would stop," Al-Qazzaz explained. "But the complaint would be referred to an administrative court, which would rule on the case and legal action would be taken accordingly."
The steering committee can also register its objections to particular NGOs that engage in partisan politics or profiteering, both of which would be considered violations of the proposed law.
Al-Qazzaz stressed that the presidency was keen to push the bill forward, as the new legislation would signal a "new era of a better civil society." He added: "We opened our doors to everyone for discussions [of the proposed law], including both NGOs and concerned foreign embassies."
"I think we've arrived at a workable draft of the proposed law," he said, "following over 150 sessions with all involved parties."
The proposed legislation was originally drafted by the Islamist-led Shura Council's human development committee. Earlier drafts had been seen by observers as more repressive than the Mubarak-era Law 84/2002, under which NGO activities were tightly restricted.
Concerns on the part of the law's critics have been compounded by Egypt's new Islamist-tinged constitution, efforts by the presidency to push for a fast-track law aimed at 'purging the judiciary' of Mubarak-era jurists, and what they perceive as a 'clampdown' on dissent.